For many people, the word “humanitarian” conjures up a globe-trotting foreigner swooping in to a country afflicted by the crisis and saving the day.  However, this image is far from the reality on the ground.  Local humanitarians – such as Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers – are the ones actually doing most of the work of humanitarian assistance in many settings, often invisibly. Yet, the overwhelming bulk of investment, attention and authority still remains with internationals.

While recent years have seen the development of a rhetorical consensus about the need for local actors to be empowered in the international humanitarian system, there is still a significant gap between what we say and what we do.  As described in the IFRC’s 2015 World Disasters Report, domestic authorities and civil society often feel sidelined in decision-making in humanitarian response operations and local NGOs (and National Societies) often feel that they are treated as sub-contractors rather than partners.  Moreover, local actors receive a negligible share – generally less than 5% for governments and less than 0.5% for local civil society — of international humanitarian funding through direct channels.   A number of local civil society actors receive international funds indirectly, for instance through UN agencies, but the total amounts have yet to be collated.


Our call to action

With the adoption of the Grand Bargain in 2016, a number of major donors and humanitarian organisations have made some key commitments to “localisation”, including:

  • increasing and supporting multi-year investment in the institutional capacities of local and national responders,
  • reducing barriers that prevent organisations and donors from partnering with local and national responders
  • supporting and complementing national coordination mechanisms and ensuring the inclusion of national and local actors in international coordination
  • achieving by 2020 a global, aggregated target of at least 25 per cent of humanitarian funding to local and national responders as directly as possible

It is critical that we now ensure that these good intentions are carried out.  Among other things, this will require:

  • investing in a sustainable way, prior to disaster, in a strong fundamental organisational core of local organisations (e.g., finance and oversight mechanisms, leadership and institutional identity and purpose) rather than focusing narrowly on “response capacities”.
  • ensuring that international humanitarian coordination mechanisms are welcoming, contextual and relevant to local humanitarian actors.
  • shifting from a sub-contracting to a partnership approach between international humanitarian actors and local civil society counterparts to avoid the potential for simply checking “donor quota” boxes. Where intermediaries (such as UN agencies, the IFRC and international NGOs) are used by donors, they too should act like donors and incubators, rather than as project managers.

It is equally important that local actors take responsibility to strengthen their own capacity and preparedness to lead. This includes governments developing appropriate laws, procedures and institutional mechanisms related to international disaster response law (IDRL).  All local actors (governmental and non-governmental) interested in accessing these international funds must also ensure that they have adequately strong mechanisms for the responsible use of them as well as transparency.

Grand Bargain

Together with the Swiss Government, the IFRC co-convenes the Grand Bargain’s Workstream on “More support and funding tools for local and national responders.” Comprised of Grand Bargain signatories, the Workstream aims to promote and facilitate the implementation of their localisation commitments. Click here to learn more.

Investing in National Societies

National Red Cross and Red Crescent Society volunteers work within and for their communities to strengthen their resilience, to respond to crises and to build back better. Investing in their work at the local level is an investment in the future.  To learn more:

Get involved

Would you like to share your views and join us in working toward a more “localised” humanitarian eco-system?

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